Long-time wmtc reader Dean, a progressive living in Texas, has the uncanny ability to read my mind. He's forever leaving comments today about tomorrow's posts. Yesterday Dean noted:
Barbara Ehrenreich maintains a website that she apparently doesn't make off-limits to hate-filled, sociopathic right-wing commentors. You Canadians might want to check out some of their comments on Ehrenreich's recent posts to get a taste of the obsessions and hatefulness of the American right-wing.

For example, one from a few days ago declares that he doesn't care anything at all for those who suffered and died from Hurricane Katrina, that it's every man for himself and he wouldn't want to live around poor people anyway. And this in response to an Ehrenreich essay on how the unemployed in the US too often blame only themselves for their predicament. And even that comment is pretty mild compared to what you can hear on the street here or on many other sites any day of the week. Laura's probably received much worse.

When I read comments like that, attitudes that are all too familiar and widespread here in Texas, I am so glad Laura deletes them. At the same time, as Laura says, I don't think the rest of the world really realizes just how aggressively hateful many in the US are.
"Aggressively hateful" - that's exactly how I think of it.

A new wmtc reader, going through our backstory, recently emailed me about a nasty comment that I left up. (It was snarky, but not hate-filled, so it didn't meet my standard for deletion.) His email and Dean's comment reminded me of just how many of those comments wmtc used to get, especially right after the 2004 "election". Out and out hate mail. The comments I have deleted could fill a large, hate-filled book.

There were the angry right-wingers, furious that someone could actually choose another country over TGNOTFOTE, that anyone would dare suggest there was a better place to live. (Of course they all claimed to be happy we were leaving, along with the ubiquitous offers to help us pack.)

There were the angry left-wingers who said we were giving up and abandoning our country. They were certainly less mean-spirited, and there were fewer of them.

The third type of comments - a subset of the angry wingnuts - were intent on telling us how awful Canada is, and how much we would hate it there. How our (non-existent) children would be forced to speak French, how we would be arrested - dragged out of our beds at night, I think was the expression - if we disparaged the queen of England, how we would die while we waited for health care. That is, if the cold didn't kill us first.

Sometimes I would delete the comment, but copy it into a post so the wmtc crew could kick it around some. That was fun, and had the added benefit of making me feel welcomed and accepted.

Everything calmed down a lot after we moved. The last spew wmtc received was actually from a Canadian left-winger who thought I moved to Canada for stupid, uninformed reasons, and just had to tell me about it. But it's a pretty rare occurrence now, where it used to be fairly common.

It was always very clear to me that I couldn't leave that stuff on my blog. It felt like a violation of my personal space. I think of this blog as my online home. Someone came to my home to insult me, and I had to ask him, or force him, to leave.

Deletion is inevitably followed by accusations of censorship and "echo chambers". But I'm not the government, I'm not preventing anyone from getting their own blog (although we move to canada sucks is already taken, ha ha!), and not everyone who posts here shares the same opinions. But deleted commenters always whine about the same things, and I just continue to delete them.

Different bloggers have different takes on this. Jere, the reader who I mentioned above, reading some old posts, said he leaves all the hateful comments in, bad spelling and all, to expose them. I recently read Crooks and Liars's comment policy and thought it was brilliant. My own ground rules for commenting are here. Many bloggers don't monitor comments and don't seem to care what goes on in them.

A recent comment war on one of my favourite blogs confirmed for me that my instincts were right. (Right for me. Each to her own.)

Egalia, of the great Tennessee Guerilla Women, posted a powerful, emotional piece, when her daughter was beaten up by her then-boyfriend. (Daughter's boyfriend, not mom's.) Egalia's post, which includes photos of her daughter's bruised and swollen face, was called "Men Are Scum Until Proven Otherwise".

It's a provocative title, to be sure, and taken in context, an excellent one. Egalia explains it was actually a quote from her daughter's father, from when their daughter first started dating. In our violent world, women must be on guard and distrustful, until it's clear that the man in question is worthy of trust.

Egalia and her daughter were engaged in "naming and shaming": refusing to be silent and let abusers slip under the radar, masquerading as normal men. Other bloggers joined the campaign; Egalia posted a round-up here.

Although I missed the opportunity to name and shame Matthew Allen White, Egalia's daughter's assailant, I applaud their campaign with all my heart. It seeks justice, and it puts the blame where it belongs. I know from personal experience how powerful it is when you own your story enough to lift your head proudly and say: This was done to me. I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Now, go back and scroll through the comments on those two TGW posts. Look what people wrote.

A woman posts photos of her daughter's battered face, and people yell at her for casting aspersions on men. They say she's as bad as the man who beat up her daughter. And worse.

Egalia has many friends and defenders, and many readers came to her defense. The comments devolved into a shouting match.

I'm sure Egalia has her own reasons for leaving up all the comments. Maybe it's to expose the hate. Maybe she finds it easier and less upsetting to ignore comments altogether. Maybe it's some combination of the two plus other reasons I haven't guessed at.

But for me, the comments at TGW are the cautionary slippery slope. That's where wmtc could have ended up if I didn't nip it early on. Instead of the interesting discussions we have here, we'd have one big ugly shouting match.

* * * *

Although this post is about blogging and comment policy, I hope you'll take a few minutes to check out the TGW posts I linked to (one, two and especially three). Powerful stuff.

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